Posts filed under 'Electronica, Club/Dance Music'

Chargaux – Meditations of a G

CharGaux

Title: Meditations of a G

Artist: Chargaux

Label: Chargaux Records

Format: MP3

Release date: September 29, 2016

 

Chargaux consists of violinist Jasmin “Charly” Charles and violist Margaux Whitney, who met by chance when Margaux saw Charly playing violin on a Boston street corner. The next day, they were playing together on the street corner and have been collaborators ever since.  The two have worked with a variety of high profile artists, providing the solo at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” as well as the strings on J.Cole’s past two albums, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014) and 4 Your Eyez Only (2016).  More than just string players, though, the two also sing, paint, compose, and are all around performance artists, as seen from their installation performances in New York City.

Meditations of a G is eclectic and more experimental than 2014’s Gallerina Suites and Broke and Baroque. The duo plays homage to their classically trained roots, opening the EP with the sounds of a tuning orchestra on “First Chair.” From there, the project spreads into a minimalist direction, and could sit comfortably between projects like Solange’s A Seat at the Table (2016) or FKA Twigs LP1 (2014).  Although much of the album has an effortless groove about it, one can still hear the intricacy and complexity of the production, particularly in the more elaborate string arrangements, found on songs like “Sosha Media” and “Tie Your Fukn Shoes.”  There is a welcome amount of humor throughout the EP, especially in “Trap Yoga,” an interlude consisting of the two narrating a yoga class, complete with reimagined trap poses over a pizzicato groove.

Chargaux has many strengths, one of which being their ability to transform the textures of their instruments, creating a different soundscape within each song. Overall, this is a beautiful project, showcasing the growth of Charly and Margaux as instrumentalists, producers, singers, and overall artists.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review February 1st, 2017

Evelyn “Champagne” King – The Complete RCA Hits and More

evelyn-king
Title: The Complete RCA Hits and More

Artist: Evelyn “Champagne” King

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: 2-CD set

Release date: October 7, 2016

 

 

There is a great story about how Evelyn King was discovered. Up and coming producer T. Life heard King’s voice one night, while she was cleaning the offices of Philadelphia International Records. She was singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which impressed T. Life enough that he offered to coach the teenager. Evelyn King should have been a bigger star after the 1977 hit single “Shame” put her on the map. Now, I might be saying that because I happened to reside in Philadelphia, but nonetheless I’ve felt that way for years.

Real Gone Music’s two disc set, The Complete RCA Hits and More, contains all the hits plus songs that received very little attention. All the tracks on this set are 12” mixes or extended versions, so you feel like you are in a club and the DJ is giving you a new version you never heard before. All these tracks were remastered for this set by Maria Triana at Battery Studios in New York.

There are many highlights these two discs, such as “Dancin’, Dancin’, Dancin’,” written by none other than Teddy Pendergrass. Released before “Shame,” it is very disco-y but shows that King had vocal talent. “Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine In,” a remake of the Fifth Dimension classic, is pretty good, with King showing another side of her talent. “I Don’t Know If It’s Right” was released immediately after “Shame” and was also popular in clubs. In this song, King is singing about whether or not she wants to lose her virginity; the opening saxophone has always been a winner and here you get the extra bonus of an extended version. As the ‘80s were ushered in, King released “I’m In Love.” This time she is not worried about losing her innocence, and perhaps it’s her last hurrah:

I mentioned “Shame,” which is the very first track on this set. When it was released in 1977, King was all over—American Bandstand, Soul Train, you name it. Today, “Shame” can still get people on the dance floor. The long version is included in this set, so enjoy.

Evelyn “Champagne” King was billed a dance artist. After the success of “Shame,” no wonder. I personally would have loved to hear more of her ballads or duets, but this is still a great set. Again, Evelyn King should have been a much bigger star.

The Complete RCA Hits and More also includes extensive liner notes with photos and album art from the RCA Vault. The liner notes are written by soul expert David Nathan and feature exclusive quotes from Evelyn “Champagne” King herself. This album is the first comprehensive domestic collection of King’s work, making this set a must-have for any fan of disco music.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review January 3rd, 2017

Black Dylan – Hey Stranger

black-dylan
Title: Hey Stranger

Artist: Black Dylan

Label: Black Dylan Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 26, 2016

 

Black Dylan is an up-and-coming duo from Denmark that blends soul, R&B, hip-hop, and pop into a thoroughly satisfying album perfect for the dance floor. Wafande’s gravely, though sweetened vocals take the front stage beside Nuplex’s skillful DJ instrumentation. Together the duo draws from its French roots and American soul influences to create the Black Dylan aesthetic.

The first song and title track, “Hey Stranger,” pursues the fantasy story we wonder if will ever come true—to fly away and travel the world with a person you just met. An excellent start leading into an invigorating morning anthem, “Get up Child,” with choir voices, grooving guitar wah wah pedal, horns, and piano. Black Dylan keeps the tempo up with “Don’t Wanna Be Alone,” integrating gospel chorus breakdowns. It is as if they dare you not to dance when you listen to this track.

The album brings down the party vibe, but not the hopeful spirits with “You’re Getting Stronger,” a smooth R&B song with a memorable chorus. “The One” utilizes finger snaps and upright bass to give the listener a more intimate atmosphere to hear his promises of love and dedication. A guitar riff is played during instrumental breaks of this song, reminiscent of West African electric guitar styles. “She Said I Was a Failure” is a slow and dramatic tune, which pairs nicely with the heartbreak song, “Who Got My Back.” Reverberating organ chords, a steady beat, and a full bodied chorus of soulful voices sing in praise of love and companionship.

The final tracks of the album turn from lost love towards more edgy and personal themes. “Keep Your Eyes on the Road” uses semi-monotone vocals paired with repetitive horn and piano sections. Performing with LA singer Honey Larochelle, “Papa” deals with the pain of having to live with an addict father:

There’s no excuse, so much abuse, I can’t believe I used to want to be like you.

Papa, overdose after overdose, you’re killing me.

The final track, “Hummin’,” is a cool and quiet tune producing an emotional resolution that serves as an affirmation of his tough outer shell. Hey Stranger all in all is enjoyable – it will be interesting to keep an eye on Black Dylan’s sway of audiences in the United States.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review October 3rd, 2016

Moodymann – DJ-Kicks

Moodymann

Title: DJ-Kicks

Artist: Moodymann

Label: !K7

Formats: CD, 3xLP, digital

Release date: February 2016

 

Detroit’s lengendary producer Moodymann, aka Kenny Dixon Jr., is reknown for mixing obscure tracks into soulful house music, not to mention his tendency to obscure his persona through veils and hoodies, and his facility in the roller rink and organizer of Soul Skate. As one of the primary forces in techno music, which emerged in Detroit’s African American community in the 1980s, Dixon followed on the heels of originators such Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. His 1997 single “Dem Young Sconies” was cited by techno historian Denise Dalphond as one of Detroit techno’s 10 most essential tracks.

Though Dixon has released many albums and singles over his nearly 30-year career, some on his own KDJ label, DJ-Kicks is the first official multi-artist Moodymann mixtape. Featuring 30 tracks (primarily post-2000 releases), of which 11 are exclusive Moodymann edits, the mixtape is the 51st entry in !K7’s highly acclaimed DJ-Kicks series.

As usual, Moodymann’s mix is remarkably eclectic, delving into a wide range of African American genres ranging from hip hop and soul to jazz and funk, in addition to his bread and butter house, techno, and dance music. Detroit artists figure heavily in the project, including Andrés, Platinum Pied Pipers, Dopehead and Marcellus Pittman. Other tracks feature more popular artists such as Cody ChesnuTT, Shawn Lee and Flying Lotus, while DJ/Producers are represented by Rich Medina, Nightmares on Wax, the Fort Knox Five, Joeski, and Berlin native Daniel Bortz.

The mixtape flows smoothly between selections, with Big Muff’s rendition of “My Funny Valentine” segueing into Les Sins’ “Grind” and Tirogo’s “Disco Maniac.” Though DJ-Kicks doesn’t include Dixon’s earlier trademark political references, such as his brilliant single “The Day We Lost The Soul” which sampled Marvin Gayes “Whats Goin On” and various speeches about Gaye, it’s a welcome and long awaited addition to Moodymann’s body of underground releases.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2016

Eccodek – Singing in Tongues

Eccodek - Singing in Tongues

Title: Singing in Tongues

Artist: Eccodek

Label: Black Swan Sounds

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 6, 2014

 

 

It’s easy to get lost in Singing in Tongues. Combining the ambient sounds of dub reggae with Indo-African rhythms and instruments, seasoned veterans Eccodek create on their sixth and latest album a proggy, relaxed sound without treading over the line of background music. In fact, Singing in Tongues takes the group to the forefront, reimagining new and old ideas for a fresh take on Indo-African folk music. Thus, the album should appeal to various groups of listeners: folkies who appreciate the reference to traditional instrumentation, and more contemporary oriented listeners who will notice the nods to electronic music and dub. Additionally, American hip-hop artist MC Yogi, who makes a guest appearance, has the distinction of performing vocals in English—a first for the group:

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Keeping the past alive and the present strong, Singing in Tongues earns a solid recommendation.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review June 2nd, 2014

New Caribbean Releases

Tambutronic

Title: Tambutronic

Artist: Kuenta i Tambú

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Jiga Musica

Release date: January 14, 2014

 

 

Curaçao-based Kuenta i Tambú (KiT for short) has been making waves since a feature in the December issue of Rolling Stone on their song “Waya Waya” brought the music of their small island into the spotlight. Located a hop and a skip from Venezuela, KiT is a group that has taken traditional genres and added the contemporary sounds of electronic dance music. Combining the percussive tambú with the electronic music native to Dutch clubs, Tambutronic is an album that can’t be truly summarized by just a song or even a handful of tracks.  Rather, the whole album flows flawlessly together to create a highly entertaining party album that is sure to bring even more creativity and imagination into the active electronic music scene.

Take a listen to the first single off Tambutronic, “Jackhammer”:

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juakali

Title: Feathers Too Bright

Artist: Juakali

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Foreign Familiar

Release date: November 25, 2013

 

 

The Trinidad-American artist Juakali has had a profound impact on the dubstep scene. Heralded as “the voice of North American dubstep,” Juakali has helped fuel a rising popularity of the music among American audiences. Flawlessly melding the deep, gritty bass-heavy tone with a singjay style, Juakali’s newest release, Feathers Too Bright, continues to build on the success of the artist’s previous slew of singles and EPs. For those interested in a creative approach to the dubstep scene, Feathers Too Bright is a brilliant place to start.

Check out the first track off the new album, “Bad Mofo”:

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Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 3rd, 2014

Tricky – False Idols

Tricky
Title:  False Idols

Artist:  Tricky

Label: False Idols / !K7 Records

Formats: CD, Deluxe ed., LP, MP3

Release date: May 28, 2013

 

 

Tricky, born Adrian Thaws in Bristol, England to a Jamaican father and Ghanaian-English mother, first gained attention through his affiliation with the trip hop group Massive Attack. But it was his 1994 solo debut album, Maxinquaye, that brought worldwide critical acclaim for his trademark down-tempo style of half-whispered raps over hypnotic beats paired with assorted soulful vocalists and instrumentals. Now, after nine major label releases including Nearly God (1996), Angels With Dirty Faces (1998), Knowle West Boy (2008) and Mixed Race (2010), he’s shaken off outside influences and founded his own label, False Idols, which is also the title of his new album.

On False Idols, Tricky returns to a softer, more mesmerizing form of trip hop that’s fused with soul and occasional bursts of rock guitar (“Parenthesis”), sensuous strings (“Passion of the Christ”), acoustic pop (“Chinese Interludes”), world beats (“Tribal Drums” and “I’m Ready”), jazz (“Valentine,” built over repetitions of “My Funny Valentine”), and menacing electronica as exemplified by “Does It”:

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Joining his spiritual journey are vocalists Nneka, Peter Silberman of The Antlers, Francesca Belmonte, and Fifi Rong (regrettably there are no specific credits for the electronic review copy).  Overall, False Idols is a fascinating mood piece with fifteen transcendent tracks that, despite occasional booming bass lines, will likely motivate you to sit lotus-style in the corner and ponder your place in the universe.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 3rd, 2013

Two New Releases from British Producer Joey Negro

Title: The Secret Life of Us

Artist: Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band

Label: Z Records

Format: CD

Release date: August 14, 2012

 

 

Joey Negro (a.k.a. Dave Lee), the British house producer and DJ known for being one of the first artists to incorporate disco into his sampling, has released many remixes and compilations.  His latest house-infused disco creation, The Secret Life of Us, features songs he arranged for his session group, The Sunburst Band (with Lee on guitar, vocalists Pete Simpson and Donna Gardier, Julian Crampton on bass, Frank Tontoh on drums, Alex Bennett on keys, and Nick Cohen on laptop/effects).

Overall, The Secret Life of Us is relaxing yet danceable, still appropriate in a live setting but laid back enough that it can be enjoyed outside of a club. The band is able to keep things fresh by preserving that classic disco sound while simultaneously updating it with more contemporary house influences. For example, “Jazz The DMX,” uses an effective combination of electronic sounds as the bass and drums work overtime to maintain the core disco beat. This style is featured throughout the album and is generally done well.  The project never drags, nor does it become generic through repetitive sampling or bass lines. Another example is “Opus De Soul,” where strings and horns abound, creating a soulful, jazzy mix that is both danceable and entertaining. This defines the whole album: creative and fresh combinations built upon traditional disco instrumentation of the ‘70s that’s brought into the new age with plenty of electronic effects and contemporary styles that keep The Secret Life of Us grooving throughout its entirety.

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Title: Go-Go Get Down

Artist: Various

Label: Z Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 31, 2012

 

 

Joey Negro’s Go-Go Get Down: Pure Ghetto Funk from Washington D.C, is a fantastic compilation that incorporates some nice of rarities from D.C.’s emerging  go-go scene in the 1970s.

From the get go, the music on Go-Go Get Down is differentiated from the more general form of funk by its incorporation of hip hop elements and grittier sound. This is most clearly illustrated in Donald Banks’ “Status Quo,” which uses rapping over live instrumentation. It practically reads as a funkier version of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” with such lyrics as “I came back home for a pursuit of hope / I look around, everybody’s on dope / everybody’s broke, they got no hope,” criticizing aspects of urban life. These songs keep with the funk album aesthetic of extended tracks, mixing long periods of jamming with rapping over the rhythm. Furthermore, the funk attitude is obviously still present, which can quickly be understood through titles such as “This Groove Was Made For Funkin’” (by Jackie Boy & Nature’s Creation), “Rock Yer Butt” (by EU) and the great Osiris track “War (On The Bull Shit!).”  Many other artists are represented, including the “Godfather of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown, performing “Back It On Up” with The Soul Searchers.

Though I only had access to a thirteen track sampler, the complete Go-Go Get Down compilation is spread over the length of two discs, ensuring that one can easily gain an appreciation for the distinctive sound of this unique funk and hip-hop hybrid from the nation’s capital.

 

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2012

7even Thirty – Heaven’s Computer

Title: Heaven’s Computer

Artist: 7evenThirty

Label: Mello Music Group

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012

 

Delivering raps that are as fiery as they are cryptic, that meld high-concept and sci-fi camp to grand cinematic effect, 7evenThirty has landed!  Dropping in hip hop’s proverbial cornfields—Jackson, Mississippi, born and based—7evenThirty’s debut album Heaven’s Computer leaves mysterious but undeniable proof of the dirty South’s strange life forms.

Space Gangsta, Angel of Death, Harbinger of Doom, Outerspace Freak are just some of the honorifics 7evenThirty boasts as he spins the social alienation and violence so often versified in gangsta rap into pop culture kitsch. But his post-apocalyptic futurism is not the source of social commentary as much as artistic bravado. In Heaven’s Computer, 7evenThirty tries to avenge a hostile world with his furious flow, with his visionary beats.

With Del the Funky Homosapien and Afrikaa Bambataa well before him, and Sun Ra and Parliament well before that, 7evenThirty’s space-freak act is hardly novel. He even makes the “Mothership” connection in “Getup!!!”  What does seem fairly distinct about 7evenThirty’s music, however, is his experimental take on the Southern rap line, earning him more than a few comparisons to Outkast. The arena-rock flavored murder ballad “Earth Gurl,” one of the album’s best, does have the sinister party stylings of Andre 3000/Big Boi, and that ain’t no small feat for a debut album.

He samples and fuses different styles of music—‘80s rock and r&b, chief among them—to produce gritty, sharp-toothed hip hop topped with a fluorescent halo of synthesizers and laser beams of hair-metal guitar. In fact, “Twenty Twelve” sounds like the music from Grand Theft Auto, subbing vehicular madness for space-age capers.

7evenThirty fuses unlike elements to achieve an even sound, one that has been as thoughtfully constructed as the space-themed concept album as a whole. According to 7evenThirty’s cosmology, as explained to us by Alfie, 7evenThirty’s cyborg sidekick, space invading aliens have been beaming martial warnings to Earth in the form of radio frequencies. Hip Hop is their native tongue, 7evenThirty is their representative.

7evenThirty’s elaborate storytelling has earned the album cinematic comparisons: “Blade Runner Meets Back to the Future” reads his press kit. But for its grittiness and dark humor, Heaven’s Computer plays out more like John Sayles sci-fi comedy Brother From Another Planet, in which Brother, the Black alien who crashlands in Harlem, is so jarringly different that the Harlemites mistake him for a backward Southerner. One character says, “I’d rather be a cockroach on a baseboard up here than the Emperor of Mississippi.” Proudly boasting “I’m from the South” throughout the album, 7evenThirty embraces his Mississippi roots to cultivate his alien persona and transmit his stratospheric brand of dirty South hip hop.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

 

View review October 1st, 2012

Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984

Title: Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984

Artists: Various

Label: Chocolate Industries

Formats:  CD, LP

Release date:  April 24, 2012

 

 

Chocolate Industries’ new compilation of rare and obscure early Black American electronic music is a fascinating and infinitely listenable introduction to some early pioneers (or, perhaps less generously, explorers) of experimental music, those who moved beyond the tools of traditional rock ’n’ roll.

When phrases like “compilation of rare and obscure experimental ___” are bandied about, it sometimes feels less like you are about to listen to a great album and more like you are about to listen to an “interesting” album or an album whose aesthetic and historical relevance you can “appreciate.” Personal Space, however, manages to be a great album that is, indeed, very “interesting.” Its liner notes succinctly detail each selection in such a way that you feel both informed and inspired to immediately hit up Google for more information.

The album features great tracks that flow into one another seamlessly, even though the artists often approached the new technologies in startlingly different manners. Since every song on this 16-track compilation is unique and curious in its own right, I’m going to run through a couple of highlights. These songs immediately jumped out to me and engaged me, sometimes with their funky grooves and sometimes with their unexpected experimentations.

The most amazing revelation in this compilation is, in my opinion, Key & Cleary’s “A Man.”  Sylvester Cleary and Jessie Key, two Buffalo, NY natives, joined forces to create this amazing soul track with an African inspired hand-drum loop overlaid with an electronic cymbal beat. The polyrhythmic beat is infectious and entirely unexpected. On top of that, the almost spoken, soulfully recited lyrics are so minimalist and well-crafted it would not be surprising to find this song on Pitchfork Media’s New Music Radar. The beginning lyrics, “My muscles are of steel/ My mind of complex computers/Daily I struggle for understanding/And daily I breathe to be understood,” could easily be found on an album from Death Grips or any number of contemporary experimental musicians.

On the funkier side of things, there are tracks like “I Finally Found the Love I Need” by Jerry (J.G.) Green (a.k.a. The Voice Master), a member of the second iteration of famed Motown group The Contours. The song’s dark (almost humorously so), stripped down, futuristic electronic sound, layered with Motownesque vocals could have changed the face of techno if anyone would have heard it. A more spiritual experiment comes from Otis G. Johnson’s “Time to Go Home.” Johnson’s ethereal gospel track, which was recorded at home with only his voice and his urge to spread his faith through song, an organ and its factory installed metronomic pre-sets, creates a soothing, slightly off-kilter musical landscape, that occasionally features a child’s singing.

There is an earnest, outsider appeal to most of the music on the Personal Space compilation, which should be on the radar of anyone interested in music that challenges creative standards.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review September 4th, 2012

Visioneers – Hipology

Title: Hipology

Artist: Visioneers

Label: BBE Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: June 12, 2012

 

 

London producer Marc Mac (a.k.a. Mark Clair), best known as a member of the drum ‘n’ bass group 4Hero, has released his third project under the alias Visioneers. In Hipology, Mac shifts away from his rave-scene roots to mix soul and jazz with hip hop.

While possessing an array of effective mixes and samples, the various shout outs to Visioneers and speeches throughout Hipology have an adverse effect on the overall flow. Almost every mix on the album is a strong combination of tight beats, most notably on the tracks “Shine,” “Ice Cream On My Kicks,” and the Afro-beat influenced “Shaft in Africa.” The funky, grooving style that Mac achieves in his mixes would have made a great album, if not for the breaks between songs. It’s nice to have a couple shout outs as a means of dividing the album into sections, but when it happens after almost every song the practice rapidly loses its effectiveness.

Following is the music video for “Come and Play in the Milky Night”:

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Those who are interested in making their own mixes or are just curious about the samples used by Visioneers will appreciate the bonus CD with unmixed separate tracks that accompanies the album.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review September 4th, 2012

Underneath the Pine

Title: Underneath the Pine

Artist: Toro y Moi

Label: Car Park Records

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  February 22, 2011

 

 

If there is one thing the music from the newest generation of lo-fi, DIY, bedroom recording artists has been missing, it’s true danceability.  While the Ariel Pink’s of the world have been producing perfect, fuzzy pop songs great for head bobbing and subtle shimmying, there hasn’t been much that you can really get down to. But Toro y Moi (the stagename of Chazwick Bundick) has definitely brought the groove to chillwave with his sophomore album Underneath the Pine.

When I say “brought the groove,” don’t mistake this album for a funk explosion. The music is enveloping in its prog lushness, with tight harmonies and an encompassing sonic warmth that brings to mind Eno, French Pop, ELO and all sorts of big picture pop composers. Tracks like “How I Know” do everything a finely crafted hit should do: create a self-contained aural world that, in under five minutes, paints a mural in your brain from a rich palette of interweaving tight harmonies, melodic bass and a well-executed beat. A beat that you can dance to! A beat that lies under poignant, simple lyrics and complex layers of synthesized sound.

Following is the official music video for the single “New Beat”:

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Underneath the Pine takes you on a tour of Bundick’s creative mind, where funky bass lines and smooth keyboards illustrate the insular thoughts of a young man. It’s a tour I’m thankful to have taken, and one that I hope will be expanded upon in his future recordings.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review April 2nd, 2012

More New Releases – Artists to Watch

Title: Sounds Like a Riot

Artist: Game Rebellion

Label: Molotov Music

Format:  MP3, CD

Release date: January 18, 2010

The Brooklyn based rap-rock band Game Rebellion has been burning up both coasts since 2006 with their high-energy shows and regular appearances on the Afro-punk circuit.  Led by MC Netic and backed by a quartet featuring Yohimbe (lead guitar, vocals), Ahmed (bass), Emi (keys, vocals), and Aaron (percussion),  their influences range from Prince, Jimi Hendrix, the Isley Brothers, and Bad Brains to Megadeath and Guns & Rose.  Sounds Like Riot, their first project to feature all original songs (their previous EP Searching for Rick Rubin was a mixtape), may not be able to match the frenzy of live shows, but its sure to enlarge the fan base.

Following is the video for the single “Blind” from Sounds Like a Riot:

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Editor’s note: Netic  was one of the participants in the AAAMC’s 2009 conference, Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music. To learn more about Netic’s one-on-one interview for the conference or about other materials in the collection, contact our staff.

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Title:  Rebirth – Darkness

Artist: Untitled

Format:  MP3 (“pick your own price” download)

Release date: 2010

Chicago’s Untitled is an experimental band that merges hip hop, rock, reggae, funk, Latin and soul with a positive message while pushing the boundaries of sound.  The collective―featuring 3 MCs/vocalists backed by keys, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion―conceived of their sophomore album  Rebirth-Darkness 2 Light as a two-part thematic series. The first half, Darkness, is now available (no release date has been given for Light) and features alternating tracks that glide from instrumentals to rap.  Standout tracks include “Revolution” featuring Benny Ramos, Jr., “Under the Influence” ft. Moral One, and “Gain the World.”  Untitled’s debut album, Wake Up, is also currently available as an MP3 download.

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Title: Suspended Animation

Artist: Esham

Label: Aknu Media

Format: CD, MP3

Release date:  August 3, 2010

Detroit cult artist Esham is often cited as the creator of acid rap – described as a style which combines hard rock guitar samples, hip hop beats and unique narratives that are often bizarre and dark. This “darkness” is more than evident on Esham’s underground albums, including his controversial 1993 masterpiece KKKill the Fetus.  His latest release, Suspended Animation, is political in nature, with tracks such as “Closed Doors” about the hidden agendas of mega corporations, “SSMD” (Stop Selling Me Drugs) about overdoses of prescription drugs (ala Michael Jackson), and “Poultry,” which he describes as a “tastefully done” expose about the horrors of the commercial poultry  industry.

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Title: The Boxer

Artist: Kele Okereke

Label: Glassnote

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: June 22, 2010

The Boxer is the solo debut album by Kele Okereke, better known as lead singer/guitarist for the British rock band Bloc Party, which is currently on hiatus.  Featuring original songs by Kele, the album is an engaging mix of raw pop, rock, R&B, and electronica that is heavy on the dance beats as a result of his recent forays into deejaying.  This month he’ll be touring the U.S. in support of the album, but promises to also cover a few Bloc Party songs.

Following is the official video from his single “Tenderoni” (definitely not as insipid as it sounds):

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Title: The Black Hood

Artist: Tomeka Williams

Label:  Rhyme Cartel

Format:  MP3

Release date:  January 19, 2010

Southern-born but raised in Tacoma, Washington, Tomeka Williams grew up listening to her father’s funk and soul and her mother’s gospel music, so it should be no surprise that Williams’ style leans more towards soul-inspired rock.   Discovered by Sir-Mix-a-Lot, she performed on several of his albums and accompanied him on tour while they worked to perfect her sound.  Her debut album, on which Mix served as executive producer, has been hailed as “the kind of R&B record that defies convention,” featuring “lots of distorted guitars and nontraditional drum patches,” not to mention some great original songs such as “Ho,” “What She Gave,” and the title track “Black Hood.”

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Title:  Strangers in Masks

Artist: Tecla

Format:  MP3 (free download)

Release date: April 2010

Tecla Esposito, a NYC native born to Haitian and Italian parents, began her musical career as a classically trained pianist.  More recently she has turned to writing, producing, and performing her own version of  electronic/punk/rock/hip hop music.  According to her website,  the synth-heavy Strangers In Masks has been described as “SWV on acid”, “the rocktronica black Cinderella”, and “Buddy Holly meets Pagliacci.” Though some tracks are annoyingly repetitive, others show promise, such as “When I Was a Sinner,” “Life of Luxury,” and “Technology.”

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2010

LotusFlower3

Title: LotusFlow3r

Artist: Prince

Label: NPG

Catalog No.: 09549

Release date: March 2009

Prince Rogers Nelson is a multitalented musician who plays a variety of instruments and has written hundreds, if not thousands of songs. He has won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year he was eligible. Rolling Stone ranked Prince #28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He has had a very long and illustrious career and therefore is no stranger to danger. Therefore, with his bona fides well-established, the focus of this review will be his latest release, LotusFlow3R.

Like all Prince Fans, I was very excited to hear that Prince had a new 3-disc CD coming out. I thought, it’s about time for some new dew from his Purple Majesty. Sadly, the songs and music on LotusFlow3R are very disappointing and not what I expected at all. I started with great anticipation but I was left confused and wondering with great frustration. First of all let me say I am a big Prince fan, have been for years. With that bias admitted, let me review the new album as objectively as I can. LotusFlow3R is a three disc set, with two discs dedicated to Prince and one disc called “Elixir” by a Rihanna-type artist named Bria Valentine. This review will not discuss the latter.

Prince has always played many different styles and genres of music, from rock to funk and blues to R&B, which demonstrates his musical genius. Of the two discs by Prince, “LotusFlow3R” has twelve tracks all played in the “rock” genre. When I say rock genre I mean soft rock, hard rock, punk rock, head banging rock and of course rock and roll. Prince is rocking the block on this CD; however, it doesn’t sound like a block party. In fact, it sounds like some neighborhood kids rocking out in their dad’s garage. That’s right folks, this sounds just like kid-rock and I don’t mean the artist.

The first track, “From the Lotus,” sounds like Prince is waking up out of a deep sleep after listening to some inspirational relaxing music before getting ready to play. And though it is an instrumental piece, with lead electric guitar played throughout, it has no punch, no kick; it’s just noise and not a joyous noise either. The second track, “Boom,” musically pays homage to the master, Jimi Hendrix, but is lyrically naïve. The third track is a cover song. Prince has done covers of other artist songs before, such as 1995’s “Emancipation,” but honestly there is very little to cover in this remake of “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and Shondells except for the repetitive line “Wild thing / I think you move me / but I want to know for sure / You move me” that he took from the Troggs’ hit song. It doesn’t take much genius to sample a great hook and then exploit it on a cover.

Prince always felt that he was a slave to Warner Bros. and sought his emancipation “from the chains that bind me” in a 1993 legal battle (he often appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek). This somewhat explains track five, “Colonized Mind,” a social commentary on the revolution against the master race who, according to the lyrics, are “genetically disposed to rule the world / down low a future full of isolated boys and girls.” Such is the flavor of the LotusFlow3R disc.

The second disc is called “MPLSsound” and if that’s true then it must be the “early” MPLSsound. As opposed to the rock oriented Lotus disc, this is a return to Prince’s hip hop and funk flavor that we all used to savor. However, I am sorry to disappoint you because there is not one “jam” on this collection. What is a jam? “Ole’ skool” definition of jam is grooves that can make you move, a beat that makes you tap your feet, a sound that is down that will make you snap your finger if you can’t clap your hands. I am sorry to report there is not one jam in the entire collection. Great Prince jams of the past include “1999,” “Head,” “When Doves Cry,” “Sign O the Times,” etc. There is not one track that moves me or grooves me, sorry.

MPLSsound begins with “(There Will Never B) Another Like Me,” which is pure hip hop flavor with the same bragging rights as all the other rappers. Then there is the track “Chocolate Box,” with Prince singing as this sweet thing. “Dance 4 Me” is reminiscent of the group Cameo, while the track “Ol’ Skool Company” sounds just like George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadeli version of “Star Child and the Mothership Connection.” I know Prince is a musical genius, but what is the genius of sounding like someone else, and where are the jams?

I am sorry, Prince fans, but this LotusFlow3R is not the real deal. It sounds like a very young, immature Prince searching for his sound and looking for his identity. This can’t be the latest mix of music composed by an artist over 50. Prince released Crystal Ball in 1998 (a 5-CD collection of unreleased material) and in 1999 released The Vault Old Friends 4 Sale. This material also sounds as if came from the vault, perhaps more of the previously unreleased material that Prince has had stashed away for years. It sounds like retro vibes rather than something from NPD the “New Power Generation.” It does not sound as if this is the latest and the greatest body of work from the creative mind of a fifty year old music genius. Wake up Prince, we want the funk!

Reviewed by Clark D. Whitlow

Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website.

View review August 27th, 2009

House Music- The Real Story

Title: House Music…The Real Story
Author: Jesse Saunders (with James Cummins)
Publisher: Publish America
Date: 2007
ISBN: 1-60474-001-9

House Music…The Real Story (172 p.) is equally an autobiography of Chicago house music pioneer Jesse Saunders and a history of the development of “house music,” the electronic dance music form that was first developed by club DJs in New York. Saunders was one of the first DJ’s to commercially release a house music single, and was largely responsible for the develop of the genre in Chicago. Over ten years ago, the City of Chicago recognized the contributions that Jesse and house music had made to the culture of the city by proclaiming July 17, 1997, as “Jesse Saunders and Pioneers of House Music Day” in Chicago.

Saunders’ “behind the music” tour through the early days of Chicago’s house music scene is especially important due to the current void of information on the genre (despite Mayor Richard M. Daley’s proclamation, nothing much seems to have happened since 1997 in terms of documenting or celebrating house music). For lovers of Chicago house music, Jesse’s memoir is an intriguing look at how this assorted and colorful cast of characters– including Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, among others–fell into creating a new genre of music. Following is additional information from the official press release:

“Jesse Saunders’ story is one of the most important in the history of popular culture. From his hometown of Chicago, Jesse created the first original House music record and launched the House music movement across the land. Eventually, his style of music would come to sell millions of records and CDs, take over the popular consciousness of millions of kids across the earth and cement the electronic revolution in music. Written with author James Cummins, this autobiography tells the story of how it all happened. From the streets of Chicago to the biggest music labels in Los Angeles, California, it follows Jesse Saunders as he recreates the musical landscape of America. Touching on the celebrity culture of the 1980s and ’90s and into the twenty-first century, you will read many shocking things about some of your favorite artists. Jesse Saunders is an artist whose influence on modern music will never be forgotten.”

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For those who aren’t as familiar with the formation of house music in the 1980s, Jesse’s account is a worthy introduction. House Music…The Real Story represents what the genre needs more of–pioneers willing to share their own stories.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review June 10th, 2008

Sessions

craig.jpgTitle: Sessions
Artist: Carl Craig
Label: K7 Records
Catalog No.: !K7224CD
Date: 2008

Carl Craig is one of the most innovative techno DJ/producers to come out of Detroit. A product of the “second wave” of DJ’s who followed in the footsteps of techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May, Craig has traveled the world spreading his unique brand of Detroit techno that is infused with elements of jazz and soul music. His innovation approach to production has enabled him to work with the likes of Herbie Hancock.

Craig has released over fifteen albums under various pseudonyms and aliases (all are listed on his Wikipedia entry). Sessions, his latest CD, is a combination of some retouched classics as well as previously unreleased material. The double disc includes over twenty tracks that are diverse enough to keep your ear interested but blend well enough to create a seamless listening experience. The tone of the project reflects what it is like to hear Carl Craig DJ in person. He uses his mixes to bring the listener in, and then builds the energy to a climax before slowly releasing you. Sessions does a good job of using Craig mainstays and new works to achieve this arc.

I admit that this double disc project can be a little overwhelming. At times it can feel like a lot of music to get through, especially since Sessions presents one long seamless musical experience. That means there’s no easy point to turn it off until you get to the end. But if you take the time to listen to the layers of texture that Craig adds to songs like Theo Parrish’s “Falling Up” and his Grammy nominated remix of the Junior Boys “Like a Child,” you can easily hear all the musical intricacies that make techno so great to listen and dance to.

Techno music is many things to many people. But by the standards of most fans, Carl Craig is one the best DJ/producers around. If you’ve never given electronic dance music a chance, Sessions is a great place to start. Its a solid project that gives a sampling of the different sounds that Craig has introduced and popularized through techno. For those who are long time techno fans, it will remind them of how great techno and electronic dance music can be.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review April 9th, 2008

Afro Strut

afrostrut.jpg
Title: Afro Strut
Artist: Amp Fiddler
Label: Play It Again Sam (U.S. Edition)
Catalog No.: 32
Date: 2007

Combining elements of both hip hop and techno, along with funky groove lines and soulful, intelligent lyrics, Amp Fiddler‘s second album, Afro Strut, will not disappoint. With this new album, Amp Fiddler delivers an outstanding follow-up to his first solo project, Waltz of a Ghetto Fly, which was released in 2004. Though he has only recently pursued a career as a solo artist, he’s been in the music business for more than twenty years, and this experience is demonstrated throughout his first two albums.

Joseph “Amp” Fiddler is a keyboard player, singer, songwriter and producer from Detroit. He learned piano as a child, studied music at Oakland and Wayne State Universities, and toured with George Clinton as keyboardist for more than ten years. Fiddler references his Detroit origin in his use of soul, funk and techno-all genres which are part of Detroit’s musical heritage. This combination of musical genres also shows the influence of the artists he has worked with throughout his career, including Prince, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jamiroquai, Carl Craig and Moodyman, as well as George Clinton.

This CD is actually the U.S. edition of the original Afro Strut album. Though Amp Fiddler is based in the U.S., he had been without a domestic record deal for some time, so the album was first released in the U.K. in 2006 (on the Genuine label), arriving in the U.S. about a year later. The U.S. edition of Afro Strut is not simply a re-release of the UK version, but features several changes, including five new tracks not found anywhere else. Three songs from the UK version are also replaced on the US version. One of the featured new tracks is a duet with Grammy nominated artist Corinne Bailey-Rae, titled “If I Don’t”, and showcases a jazzy, 1930s influence. This track originally appeared on the UK version as a solo, but was re-recorded with Bailey-Rae for the US release. The first track on the album, “Faith”, is an ode to spirituality featuring Fiddler in a duet with Raphael Saadiq. All tracks on the album, except for track 8, were written by Amp Fiddler, sometimes in collaboration with other artists. Fiddler also performed ‘vocals and keys’ on each track on the album.

At the 2007 Detroit Music Awards, Amp Fiddler won in three categories: Outstanding Electronic/Dance Artist, Outstanding Electronic/Dance Producer and Outstanding Urban/Funk/Hip Hop Recording for Afro Strut. Watch for more great music from Amp Fiddler, as I believe he will continue to produce amazing albums.

Posted by Meaghan Reef

Editor’s note: a representative sample of Amp Fiddler’s music videos are available on YouTube, including “Right Where You Are” (the first single released from Afro Strut), “If I Don’t” (the duet with Corinne Bailey-Rae), and “Ridin‘” (laid over a great compilation of old movie clips). Unfortunately there’s no clip yet of “Hey Joe,” his killer reworking of the Jimi Hendrix song.

View review December 7th, 2007

Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco

Felix.jpgTitle: Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco
Artist: Felix da Housecat
Label: Nettwerk Records
Year: 2007

Chicago house music producer Felix da Housecat‘s latest release, Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco, is his third full-length album and his first studio album since Devin Dazzle & The Neon Fever (2004). Tracks cover the genres of electronic, soul, funk and pop, creating Felix’s production trademark “electroclash.” In contrast to his previous albums, Felix composed songs for Virgo Blaktro, rather than tracks, and also sings his own lyrics in an attempt to produce what he refers to as “a sexy, black, electronic disco record.”

Felix released his first single, “Phantasy Girl,” in 1987 at the age of 15, under the guidance of acid house pioneer DJ Pierre. After several years away from the dance music scene (in a break enforced by his parents), he returned to Chicago and to the music that he loves. Felix has been a fixture in the underground dance music scene for over a decade, and in the ’90s was recognized as one of the second wave of Chicago house producers. He found himself propelled into the mainstream spotlight with his 2001 album, Kittenz and Thee Glitz, and since its release he’s been busy remixing for everyone from Sean Combs to Madonna to Kylie Minogue. Though Felix is known for entering the scene via Chicago house, he is also widely recognized for electroclash, which forms a large part of this new album.

While all material on Virgo Blaktro was written by Felix da Housecat, the concept centers on the revival of black music from the ’70s and ’80s. When asked about his inspiration for this album, Felix responded: “This is the first record I’ve done with black folks, but to me it’s not a color thing, it’s more like a roots thing. This record has a black, soulful groove—it’s more like Sly and the Family Stone. With this album I wanted to go Parliament, I wanted to go Prince, and at the same time I wanted to go like George Michael and Pet Shop Boys, only them being black. This stuff is all black-influenced.” However, many of the musical references used by Felix on this CD are white new-wave and electro-pop references, including Devo (track 5, “Sweetfrosti”), Stuart Price (track16, “The Future Calls the Dawn”), Giorgio Moroder (track 15, “Night Tripperz”), Daft Punk (track 2, “Movie Disco”) and Men Without Hats (track 13, “Pretty Girls Don’t Dance,” which was also released as a 12” promo).

Overall, Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco leans more towards the production of pop songs, rather than dance floor tracks. On several of the tracks, including “Lookin’ My Best,” “I seem 2 Be the 1,” “Sweetfrosti” and “Monkey Cage,” Felix satisfies his obsession with ’80s synth-pop. While the album features electroclash pop songs, the production attempts to simulate a dance mix. The beat remains nearly constant throughout the album, and in switching from track to track, only the briefest of pauses occurs before the beat re-enters. The overall feel of the album is influenced greatly by electro. The average track length is between two and three minutes with only two tracks lasting more than five minutes. There are several tracks on the album lasting only thirty seconds, and while each serves as its own musical thought, there is not enough space between them to allow the listener to interpret each one individually. Thus, much of the album is made up of 30 to 120 second sound fragments.

There are several standout tracks on Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco, including “Tweak,” which was originally released in 2005 and became a popular dance floor anthem. Presented here in an abbreviated version, it seems oddly out of place in the midst of pop songs. While it has its fun moments, Virgo Blaktro, like his previous album Devin Dazzle & The Neon Fever, is somewhat disappointing. Neither really lives up to the potential of Kittenz and Thee Glitz.

Posted by Meghan Reef

View review November 9th, 2007

Bold and Beautiful

vikter.jpegTitle: Bold and Beautiful
Artist: Vikter Duplaix
Label: BBE Records
Catalog No.: CD 730003107023.
Date: 2006

Few would debate the role of electronic technology in the birth and growth of hip hop music. From hip hop’s South Bronx beginnings, the music was inextricably connected to the innovation of existing sound technology. Hip hop DJ pioneers—including Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grand Master Flash—made an art of redefining record playing techniques such as mixing and scratching to accentuate their DJ performances. Arguably there was also an influence from the disco era in terms of elevating the role of the DJ to that of an artist.

Vikter Dupliax’s Bold and Beautiful represents the maturation of the hip hop DJ as an artist and visionary, not just in terms of traditional hip hop live DJ performances, but as studio producers as well. A Philadelphia native, Dupliax draws on various musical influences, including the “Philly Sound” developed by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, hip hop, and electronica dance music.

Bold and Beautiful is the mellowest of his three electronica albums. Known for his airy vocal delivery, Duplaix is consistent throughout the project. Though he has a narrow vocal range, diversity is provided through his production abilities and the avid musicianship of Raphael Saadiq of Tony Toni Toné on bass, famed house music producer Ron Trent on bass, gospel singer Tye Tribbet, Canadian trip-hop queen Esthero, and Grammy-award winning producer James Poyser on keyboards. This supporting cast of musicians from various musical genres adequately supports Duplaix’s vision for the album.

Bold and Beautiful is Duplaix’s second full album release. His 2001 debut, International Affairs, was more heavily influenced by the broken beat sounds of Europe. This is not surprising considering the amount of work Duplaix has done with electronica production collectives such as Jazzanova from Germany. With Duplaix’s current release he creates a more downtempo atmosphere using ambient synthesizers and subdued drum and bass lines. Songs such as “Make a Baby” and “Another Great Love Gone By” exemplify this type of production. Consequently, this album is more consistent with European electronica in that the vocals are distantly tantamount to the instrumental elements of the song. A notable exception to this rule is “I See the Sun,” featuring gospel singer Tye Tribbet and his choir G.A., which is the most vocally ambitious track on Bold and Beautiful. The presence of vocals also keeps the music accessible to the casual listener.

Duplaix chose to use no emcees and provides almost all of his own vocals. His album represents electronica in its various incarnations including contemplative hip hop, frenetic dance music, and downtempo lounge music. There is tremendous breadth of African-American interpretation within the genre. But what Bold and Beautiful most accurately displays is how a generation of African-American DJs, who have always been electronically inclined, use machines to make their sound even more expansive and expressive rather than more minimalist. Consequently, this type of technological innovation in music places them squarely in the continuum that began with newly-enslaved Africans who used hambones and spoons to articulate a sound they heard within.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review January 8th, 2007

High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music

high_tech_soul.jpgTitle: High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music
Director: Gary Bredow
Label: Plexifilm
Catalog No.: 029
Date: 2006

Finally, Detroit has its own techno documentary–High Tech Soul. As this title highlights, and the documentary makes quite clear, Detroit techno is a unique form of music in the world of electronic dance music because of it’s creation in the Motor City. “High tech soul,” a phrase expressed by producer/DJ Derrick May in the film, is an extraordinarily suitable label for Detroit techno.

The musical and cultural roots of Detroit techno are predominantly African American. In the early 1980s, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, three African American college kids from Bellville, Michigan (a small town outside of Detroit), began to create what is now called Detroit techno. These three men are highlighted in the film, along with Eddie Fowlkes, whose status as a founder of Detroit techno is explicitly and humorously addressed in the film. Major musical influences that these, and many other prominent Detroit DJs, claim are James Brown, Sly Stone, Afrika Bambaataa, George Clinton, and Kraftwerk, as well as influences from musical genres like disco, electro-funk, house, and experimental electronic music. Considering these influences, thinking of Detroit techno as soul music created with high tech sensibilities becomes an appropriate way of understanding the music in the context of its history.

In addition to Atkins, May, Saunderson, and Fowlkes, a large number of DJs and producers contributed to this documentary. Some of these artists, in order of appearance, are Carl Craig, the “Electrifying Mojo,” Richie Hawtin, Nico Marks of Underground Resistance, Kenny Larkin, Jeff Mills, Stacy Pullen, Scan 7, John Aquaviva, Blake Baxter, Thomas Barnett, and Delano Smith. These artists commented on Detroit techno’s long and diverse history, highlighting important DJs, musical equipment, and endearing feelings about Detroit as a city.

This 64-minute documentary includes 17 minutes of extra footage. In these extras are segments of interviews that did not fit into the documentary and categorized under four titles: “Talkin’ Trash:” some of the DJs humorously “talk trash” about more “mainstream” DJs; “Drugs:” DJs value the ability to enjoy techno without the enhancement of drug use; “School of Techno:” producer/DJ Blake Baxter talks in detail about equipment that DJs use and demonstrates them in his studio and with his beat boxing talents; and the final section of extras is called “Detroit:” Jerry Heron, an English professor at Wayne State University, talks about Detroit’s history and explains why it is the most American city.

The contribution of a documentary that focuses on the history of Detroit techno is a welcome addition to a growing collection of films being made about electronic dance music. Over the past decade, we have welcomed Modulations, a documentary covering a wide range of electronic dance music, which presented a concise history of the music during the twentieth-century; Maestro, featuring New York underground dance music during the 1970s and 1980s as an important bridge between disco in NYC and Chicago house of the early 1980s; and Put the Needle on the Record, exploring the rise of many DJs to pop music status through the venue of the Winter Music Conference which takes place every year in Miami, Florida.

For further information:

May, Beverly. 2006. Techno. In African American Music: An Introduction, ed. Mellonee Burnim and Portia Maultsby, pp. 313-352. New York: Routledge. (A detailed study of the history of Detroit techno highlighting significant figures, time periods, and musical influences.)

Modulations. Directed by Iara Lee. 74 minutes. Caipirinha Productions, 1998. DVD.

Maestro. Directed by Josell Ramos. 77 minutes. Sanctuary, 2003. DVD. (reviewed in the July issue of Black Grooves)

Put the Needle on the Record. Directed by Jason Rem. Music Video Distrubution, 2006. DVD (also reviewed in the October issue of Black Grooves).

Posted by Denise Dalphond

View review October 4th, 2006

Put the Needle on the Record

put_the_needle.jpgTitle: Put the Needle on the Record
Director: Jason Rem
Publisher: REM Entertainment
Catalog No.:060601
Date: 2006

In the 1970’s disco music became a pop culture phenomenon. But then just as quickly as it ascended, it was driven back underground by a vicious backlash from the rock music peace community. Disco, renamed dance or club music, re-emerged in the DJ set of Frankie Knuckles at a Chicago club simply called “The Warehouse.” The music that was spun there became known as “house music.” Almost thirty years later, house music, a mixture of many subgenres including downtempo, trance, techno, drum ‘n bass, and soulful house, continues be celebrated every year at the Winter Music Conference in Miami.

The film Put the Needle on the Record examines the history, classification, purpose, and future of house music and electronica through the eyes of the dance music DJ. Produced and written by Jason Rem, the film uses the Winter Music Conference in Miami as a backdrop for interviewing many of the top dance music DJs from around the world including Mark Farina, Jesse Saunders, and Donald Glaude. The DJs comment on many facets of dance music as an art and as a business. The DJs intimate that dance music is a very large family of music that includes many diverse styles united by the standard “four on the floor” beat, funk, and soul. The film also goes into further detail about many of the subgenres and their particulars.

The DJs passion for the type of music they play and their self-described roles as tour guides through a musical experience is evident. Although the documentary focuses on the DJ as the central force in house music, the other dominant force, the partygoers, are seen as the force that inspires the DJ. Since the purpose of dance music is to motivate people to dance, Put the Needle on the Record weaves in plenty of actual club footage to illustrate the critical rapport between the DJ in the booth and the frenetic crowd on the dance floor.

Put the Needle on the Record also includes bonus features such as footage of DJs in various clubs around the country. The film is a good introduction to dance music and a good retrospective for electronica/dance music fans alike.

Posted by Fredara Mareva

View review October 4th, 2006

Women on Wax

minx.jpgArtist: DJ Minx/Women on Wax
Label: WOW

As the founder of the Women on Wax (WOW) label, DJ Minx has been at the forefront of the Detroit techno turntablist movement. DJ Minx’s latest project, The Essential EP, pairs her up with fellow WOW labelmate, Diviniti. Together they are known as A Taste of the Honeys. Minx’s intricate and trippy grooves are true to its techno origins yet accessible to mainstream electronica fans. As a part of the WOW collective, Minx has executively produced the workd of other DJs including DJ Genesis’ latest project, The Key to Life EP. Genesis’ offering is a downtempo and chill approach to techno that features ambient keyboards and synthesizers over a techno bass and beat. Lastly, Minx also helped guide labelmate’s Napi Hedz latest EP, The Blessed Bliss. This eclectic production is heavily influenced by Indian-inspired vocals and rhythms that give the music a global feel. These three EPs prove that DJ Minx and Women on Wax family are true to their techno roots while keeping their ears to the world!

Posted by Fredara Mareva

Editor’s Note: DJ Minx will be participating in the upcoming Roots of Techno conference.

View review October 4th, 2006

Interstellar Fugitives: Destruction of Order

interstellar.jpegTitle: Interstellar Fugitives: Destruction of Order
Artist: Underground Resistance
Label: Submerge Recordings
Catalog No.: UGCD-UR2005
Date: 2005

Cornelius Harris (also known as “The Unknown Writer” and “Atlantis”) is a part of one of Detroit’s most talented techno DJ collectives, Underground Resistance (UR). As a member of UR, Harris has helped to spread the sound of Detroit techno around the globe through live performances. UR’s latest album release, Interstellar Fugitives: Destruction of Order, is a mix of highly metallic and melodic tracks united in a consistent techno vibe. Harris’ sound is true to the industrialized Detroit techno sound while drawing on funk influences. If it is left up to Harris and the rest of Underground Resistance, techno might not remain an underground phenomenon!

Posted by Fredara Mareva

Editor’s Note: Cornelius Harris will be participating in the upcoming Roots of Techno conference.

View review October 4th, 2006

Disco: Spinning the Story

B0007X1NVU.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Disco: Spinning the Story
Director: Mark McLaughlin
Date: 2005
Format: DVD region 1 (80 min.)
Publisher: Passport Video
Catalog no.: DVD-1613

Remembering the days when disco was a mainstream, mass-mediated, popular form of American music, Gloria Gaynor and The Village People are probably the most commonly remembered artists.  Saturday Night Fever, “the hustle,” and the television show, “Disco: Step-by-Step” are also part of the contemporary memory of what disco was.  The documentary titled Disco: Spinning the Story highlights these important elements of disco culture, but also reconstructs a much more detailed and comprehensive history of disco in the context of 1970s urban America.

The film is hosted by Gloria Gaynor and features informative interviews with George Clinton, Randy Jones of The Village People, Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rogers, Kurtis Blow, Tom Moulton, Karen Lynn Gorney from Saturday Night Fever, and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.  The film recognizes the prominence of African American and Latino culture in the creation of disco music highlighting many of the African American performers in the 1970s, like Donna Summer, Chic, Trammps, Rose Royce, Labelle, Hues Corporation, and others.  The documentary situates disco in the revolutionary atmosphere in many urban centers in the United States during the 1970s.  Gaynor describes the revolutionary philosophies and activities of many involved in civil rights, women’s liberation, and gay liberation, the latter of which played a major role in influencing and defining the new musical style that was disco. 

Disco also traces the history of the music into the previous decade to soul music of the late 1960s, namely that of Motown and the “Philly Sound” of Philadelphia International.  A high point in the film is the discussion by Tom Moulton of his unintentional discovery of the 12-inch record, on which there is only one song on each side.  Pressing a single song onto a 12-inch record made the sound much more vibrant and lively, and it increased the volume.  This had a major impact on sound systems in dance clubs.  The film concludes with a look at the final days of disco, including the racist and homophobic sentiments of the motto: “Disco Sucks!”, and ends appropriately with Gloria Gaynor discussing her performance of “I Will Survive” as one of the last disco songs of that era.  

Posted by Denise Dalphond

View review July 7th, 2006

Maestro

B0009X76ZU.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Maestro
Director: Josell Ramos
Date: 2005 (2003)
Format: DVD region 1, NTSC (2 DVD set)
Publisher: Sanctuary
Catalog No.: SAN 35100-9

Considering the history of electronic dance music, cities like New York City, Chicago, and Detroit come to mind. Words like “rave,” “techno,” “house,” “garage,” “dance music,” and “electronica” pop up. It all seems to be loosely related in some blob that we call dance music culture, but how do these words and places come together? How are they all connected?

The film Maestro begins to explore and answer that question. Produced, directed, and written by Josell Ramos, this documentary follows New York City’s underground dance music scene from its early days during the 1970s until 1987 when the renowned dance club, Paradise Garage, closed.  Maestro highlights three prominent, highly influential clubs in New York: Paradise Garage, The Loft, and The Gallery, and legendary DJs at each club: Larry Levan, David Mancuso, and Nicky Siano, respectively.  The film emphasizes the connections that New York’s underground dance scene had to disco, and explores how the DJs of this new dance music created profound, revolutionary sounds. Gay culture and the gay community in New York during the 1970s made up a strong part of this dance music movement.  The Stonewall Riots in 1969 are noted in the film as aiding in the establishment of a number of dance clubs whose clientele was primarily made up of gay men, Paradise Garage being one of them.  African American cultural influences are also emphasized in the film through discussions of the music, DJs, and dancers.

In addition to the hour and seventeen minute documentary, which is full of interviews, and club, DJ, and street footage, there is a bonus disc of extras. This second disc includes footage of Paradise Garage taken during the closing weekend in 1987; an “audiophile look” at sound systems with David Mancuso of The Loft; a look at the making of Maestro; a short documentary on house music in Chicago focusing on Ron Hardy; a piece on Tee Scott, a New York DJ at Paradise Garage; an inspiring segment featuring club dancers; and an interview with Larry Levan’s protégé, Frankie Knuckles.  With the inclusion of these extras, Maestro is an essential for any fan of electronic dance music looking to learn more about its history.

Posted by Denise Dalphond  

View review July 7th, 2006

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